Italy-Albania deal and Middle East conflict, the Government’s week on the foreign front

A week that saw the government engaged on several fronts, particularly on the foreign one. On Tuesday, Parliament debated the Parties’ motions on the conflict in the Middle East; while on Thursday the majority cashed in on a key part of the immigration management strategy, bringing home the approval of the bill concerning the agreement between Italy and Albania. The ratification already approved in January in the Chamber thus became law. The agreement had been presented in early November by Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and her Albanian counterpart Edi Rama and provides for Albania to host two Italian migrant management centers on its territory. From spring 2024, migrants rescued in the Mediterranean by Italian ships – such as those of the Navy and Guardia di Finanza, not NGOs – will be transferred to Albania. As explained in recent months by Prime Minister Meloni, the agreement between Rome and Tirana does not apply to minors, pregnant women and the vulnerable. They will be able to accommodate “up to a maximum of 3,000” people at the same time. The jurisdiction will be Italian, while Albania will cooperate with its police forces for security and external surveillance of the facilities. Italy will support any cost necessary for the accommodation and treatment of those received in the facilities, including food, medical care and any other services deemed necessary, “committing itself to ensuring that such treatment respects fundamental human rights and freedoms.” 

Still speaking of foreign issues that have engaged government action this week, a number of motions dealing with the Middle East conflict were voted on in the Chamber on Tuesday. The most significant outcome of these votes was the approval of part of the motion submitted by the Democratic Party committing the government “to support any initiative aimed at calling for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza”. The motion passed thanks to an agreement between Secretary Elly Schlein and Council Speaker Giorgia Meloni, who during Tuesday morning found a compromise on the issue. At Meloni’s suggestion, the PD agreed to amend parts of its motion, which at that point passed thanks to the majority’s abstention. Perhaps the most important significance of the vote lies in the fact that Meloni somehow took advantage of the Democratic Party’s initiative to take a thinly veiled position critical of Israel. In recent months, Meloni has repeatedly expressed resolute condemnation of the massacres carried out by Hamas on Oct. 7. On Oct. 21, she flew to Tel Aviv to reiterate the Italian government’s closeness to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a leader with whom Meloni has long been in great sympathy. In the face of the Israeli army’s prolonged war operations in Gaza, however, the Italian government has progressively adopted a more balanced line, paying particular political regard to the suffering to which the Palestinian population is being subjected in recent weeks and in fact aligning itself with the position also taken by other allied countries.

U.S. President Joe Biden is also showing increasing impatience with the military strategy being followed by Netanyahu, particularly following Israel’s choice to bomb the city of Rafah. The U.S. and Israeli presidents discussed Thursday on the phone for 40 minutes, and the conversation reportedly did not go well. The memo released by the White House after the conversation states that “the president and the Prime Minister discussed the situation in Gaza and the urgency of ensuring the humanitarian assistance that Palestinian civilians desperately need” and that “the president spoke about the situation in Rafah and repeated that a military operation should not proceed without a credible and viable plan to ensure security and support for civilians”.

A few hours earlier Netanyahu had met with CIA Director William Burns, who is overseeing the prisoner release and cease-fire negotiations-which should be the key to advancing work on the formation of a Palestinian state, according to the separate negotiation the United States is conducting with some Arab states in the region. After the phone call, Netanyahu issued a furious statement: “My position can be summed up in these two sentences. Israel categorically rejects international diktats on the permanent settlement of the Palestinians. Such an agreement will be reached only through direct negotiations between the parties, without prior conditions”. This negotiation, however, appears quite impossible: “Israel will continue to oppose unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state. This recognition following the October 7 massacre would be a great reward for that unprecedented terrorist attack and would prevent any future peace agreement”.

Despite the Israeli hard line, the U.S. government works tirelessly-along with a network of Middle Eastern states-for what it would like to be the diplomatic miracle of the Biden presidency. It is a plan that spans three lines of action: firmness against any attack provoked or moved by Tehran, support for the recognition of a Palestinian state, and implementation of a regional security pact that leverages Saudi Arabia. At present, however, despite countless trips by Secretary of State Antony Blinken, U.S. diplomacy has not achieved the desired effects.